On March 13, 2013, the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis I, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, concluded a chain of events that began nearly a month prior, when Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope since the Middle Ages to resign.
To support educators in their efforts to make this major worldwide religious event a teachable moment, EducationWorld offers the following summary of events, along with a student quiz and additional discussion points that link to more information.
Want to encourage students to view the event from a broader perspective? You'll enjoy Lesson Planning Ideas: The World’s Religions, EducationWorld's extensive classroom resource.
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Citing his advanced age, Pope Benedict announced to the world that he would abdicate his position on Feb. 28, 2013. Abdicate is a term often used when monarchs voluntarily step down as sovereigns. In this case, Pope Benedict felt that he was no longer physically capable of fulfilling the duties of the papacy and stepped down, becoming the first pope to do so since Gregory XII in the year 1406.
Following his abdication, The College of Cardinals gathered at the Catholic Church’s headquarters in Vatican City (in Rome, Italy). The College of Cardinals is the collective name for all of the cardinals in the Church. Cardinal is the second-highest position a Catholic priest can attain, and cardinals are very influential within the Church.
As required under papal law, the Cardinals held an election called a conclave to choose one from among their group to be the next pope. Such election processes are very secretive and take place in the Sistine Chapel. (The Sistine Chapel is known for its ceiling, which was painted by famous artist Michelangelo Buonarroti.) The Cardinals are locked into the chapel and are not permitted to have any contact with the outside world until a new pope has been elected by a two-thirds majority vote.
The only way the cardinals can communicate with those outside the conclave is by a simple set of smoke signals. If, after a vote, no candidate has been elected, the cardinals light a special fire in the fireplace that produces black smoke from the smokestack. Once a vote has elected a new pope, the cardinals light a different fire that produces white smoke from the smokestack. It is very common for several votes and several black-smoke fires to occur before the white smoke is seen.
Once a cardinal has been elected, he is immediately brought to a special room called “The Room of Tears,” dressed in official papal robes and introduced to the world from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Need more information? See this summary, which lists events that unfolded following Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.
Before opening your lesson or discussion, try assessing students' prior knowledge (and awareness of current events) with a brief, 5-question quiz. Each answer provides a handy link to further information on that topic.
The Pope and the Papacy: How Much Do You Know?
1. On December 12, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI made history by being the first-ever pope to do what?
a. Meet with a U.S. president
b. Send a tweet (from Twitter)
c. Resign from his position
d. Take a vacation
2. Following the recent papal conclave, what special signal alerted the public that the next pope had been elected?
a. White smoke rising
b. Bells ringing
c. Red flag waving
d. Doves flying
ANSWER: (a) White smoke rising
3. The new Pope Francis I previously served as a cardinal in what country?
ANSWER: (d) Argentina
4. Including the new Pope Francis I, there have been how many popes throughout history?
ANSWER: (b) 266. (NOTE: The source linked to in this answer only covers popes through Pope Benedict XVI; Pope Francis I must therefore be added to the total to obtain the correct answer.)
5. Catholics believe that all popes are successors to:
a. St. Francis
b. St. Michael
c. St. Peter
d. St. Basil
ANSWER: (c) St. Peter
Article by Celine Provini and Jason Tomaszewski
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